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Friday, May 27, 2011

STAR WARS WEEKENDS 2011

This weekend I went to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida for their annual STAR WARS WEEKENDS at Disney's Hollywood Studios theme park! Since 1997 Disney World's Hollywood Studios (formerly MGM Studios) has sponsored a Star Wars fan event featuring celebrities and exclusive merchandise for Star Wars fans. This year will be my second year to attend, the first being in 2008 when I met Warwick Davis (Wicket the Ewok), coincidentally on my birthday! Unfortunately, I missed the last two years but I was determined to go this year mostly because it featured Anthony Daniels (C-3PO) as a special guest. Disney holds this event in the Hollywood Studios Park due to the fact that the park features the Star Wars ride known as Star Tours, which has been open since 1987. This weekend also marks a special occasion with the opening weekend of the newly refurbished Star Tours Ride, featuring 3D technology and over 50 new destinations!
This years celebrity hosts are the voice actors from the Cartoon Network series Star Wars: Clone Wars: James Arnold Taylor (Obi-Wan Kenobi) and Ashley Eckstein (Ahsoka Tano). This was the first of four Star Wars Weekends and every weekend features different guests. This weekend's guests included Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), Daniel Logan (Young Boba Fett) and Dave Filoni (Supervising Director on Star Wars: Clone Wars). All later this month and next include other special guests such as Ray Park (Darth Maul) and Jeremy Bulloch (Boba Fett) and Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca)!
Jedi Mickey & R2-MK
We arrived in Orlando on Friday morning on a 6am flight from DFW Airport and traveled to our hotel on Disney's Magical Express bus at the new Bay Lake Tower at Disney's Contemporary Resort. Unfortunately our bus was driven by a inexperienced trainee and took longer than expected. My family are members of Disney Vacation Club so we enjoy Disney World and it's other resorts and attractions including Disney Cruise Line very frequently. We soon made our way to the Hollywood Studios to see what we could get and hopefully ride Star Tours once...or twice! (For those who followed my Twitter and/or Facebook got updates on the days events over the weekend.) When we first arrived at Hollywood Studios it's apparent that Star Wars weekends was already in full swing: There were Stormtroopers guarding the gates, Star Wars merchandise and paraphernalia all over the park, Star Wars characters in costume at various photo- opportunity locations and even some Disney characters in Star Wars costumes (i.e. Mickey Mouse as a Jedi and Minnie Mouse as Princess Leia) thousands of attendees walking around in all manner of costumes and Star Wars T-Shirts, kids wielding toy lightsabers and weapons and of course...Star Wars music blaring all over the park!
Anthony Daniels (C-3PO)
Our first event was "Inside the Saga" with Anthony Daniels at the Premiere Theater where Daniels told the story of his part in the Star Wars phenomenon, how he got the part and how he almost didn't get the part, also a few insights to his appearances over the years including commercials (one being an anti-smoking ad in the 1980's). Daniels has always been considered very outspoken with his role in Star Wars and even with his celebrity status so much that he insisted (very strongly) to those in the audience to put away cameras! At the beginning of the show following a video presentation he came on stage in a blinding gold-tuxedo jacket (with purple inside) followed by a procession of costumed Ewoks and two girls donning gold shorts and waving gold banners! And as the Ewoks bowed in praise of their golden god, so did we! Daniels was so entertaining and flamboyant it was a joy to see him live, although we had seen him twice over the years, especially at Star Wars in Concert! During the 30-minute show Daniels revealed some interesting facts about his part in the Star Wars Universe, being the only character who has appeared in all 6 films. Towards the end of the show he was joined by an actor wearing the C-3PO costume and was basically talking to himself, he thanked 3PO, shook his hand and hugged him.
Next came "Obi-Wan and Beyond" Starring James Arnold Taylor, a one-man show about his prolific voice-acting career. James has voiced over 150 voices on movies, TV shows, cartoons, video games and commercials including Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Johnny Test, Batman: Brave and the Bold, Spectacular Spider-Man, Drawn Together, Ratchet & Clank, Scooby Doo, and of course Star Wars: The Clone Wars where he voices Obi-Wan, Plo Koon and many other droids and aliens!  was astounding how he has done so  many voices and is able to imitate many other celebrities like Michael J. Fox, Al Pacino...the list goes on! He was amazing, I don;t know how he able to do so many voices, very impressive! 
STAR TOURS

Later that day I visited "Jabba's Hut", a massive white tent which contained event exclusive merchandise for Star Wars Weekends including limited edition pins, T-Shirts, hats, watches, books, toys... everything! After the lines had finally subsided, I got in line to ride the new and improved Star Tours - "The Adventures Continue!" I have enjoyed the ride since I was a kid when it first opened in 1987 and now as an adult I can appreciate the fun and nostalgia. As you enter the cue underneath a mock-up of the Ewok Village and an AT-AT Walker you enter the Star Tours lobby and see C-3PO and R2-D2 repairing a shuttle while a huge video screen overhead shows possible destinations. The ride itself is still fundamentally the same, you and about 20 other sit in a large flight simulator while you watch your journey on a huge screen combined with music, sound-effects, lights and Disney's signature animatronics it becomes an exciting and interactive experience! For the last 24 years, Star Tours has been "driven" by the droid Captain RX-24 (a.k.a. Rex) whose apparent inexperience and incompetence have taken attendees all over the galaxy! The rides original destination is supposed to be Endor but due to a mishap Rex sends the riders into a deadly shower of comets and an ultimate confrontation with the empire and the battle of the Death Star! Now, as travellers board Star Tours, they are met by C-3PO (voiced by Anthony Daniels) who was apparently performing maintenance on the shuttle becomes the accidental captain (no thanks to R2-D2). As we are about to take off we are confronted by Darth Vader and a army of stormtroopers who are looking for "Rebel Spies" (featuring the picture of a random park attendee) and attempts to stop the shuttle. We escape and are taken to our first destination, Kashyyyk, (a.k.a. the Wookie Planet), and move on to a variety of different random locations, which makes this new improvement different from the older Star Tours ride where it was always the same. Now you can go anywhere from Tatooine, Hoth, Naboo, Endor featuring both prequel and original trilogy locations and characters with many different combinations.
Ashley Eckstein (Ahsoka)
The next day I tried to get in line to get Fastpasses for Anthony Daniels' autograph but they were already out, I was disappointed but I was able to get one for James Arnold Taylor and Ashley Eckstein and that wasn't bad. Later we watched "Behind the Force" a look behind the scenes on Star Wars: The Clone Wars with host Ashley Eckstein and featuring director Dave Filoni. After that we saw the "Stars of the Saga"- Star Wars Celebrity Talk Show hosted by James Arnold Taylor and featuring Anthony Daniels and Daniel Logan. The Q&A session was entertaining although Daniels' seemed to delight in tormenting Daniel Logan. Later that afternoon was the "Star Wars Celebrity Motorcade" a parade featuring all the special guests accompanied by costumed characters and even members of The 501st Florida Garrison and the Rebel Legion. The next morning we got up around 5:30am to get in line for Anthony Daniels' Fastpass, there were already at least 50 people in line and a dozen who had camped out all night in front of the entrance to Hollywood Studios. Finally my perseverance paid off and I was able to get a Fastpass for Daniels' autograph for later that afternoon. After a few photo opportunities with Boba Fett and Darth Vader and another ride on Star Tours I was satisfied that Star Wars Weekend was a complete success. Although hot and tired (and sweaty) we left the next day for the airport but would soon find out that we were in store for two days of airline delays and problems...but that's another story! "May the Force Be With You" and see you next year!!!